Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy Spring/Happy Easter!

Other than the terrible allergies that come with Spring, I love everything about the idea of the season - new life, beautiful flowers, bunnies and chicks - everything just seems so fresh and happy.  Easter is also one of my favorite holidays (I know, I have so many favorites!)  Growing up, I loved decorating eggs (drawing on the eggs with crayon before dipping in color was always my favorite method).  My mom always made us Easter baskets with chocolate bunnies and a little gift, and my dad enjoyed hiding eggs for us in places where we'd never find them.  My husband also comes from a family with many Easter traditions - since we've been together, I've enjoyed gathering with his dad's family on the Saturday of Easter weekend for a potluck and egg hunt, and with his mom's family on Sunday morning for a super competitive adult hunt with clues and a delicious Easter brunch of fantastic quiches, pigs in a blanket, and coffee cake.  It's a holiday that comes with a lot of opportunities for books and crafts, but more importantly, it's one of the few holidays outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas that really seems to bring families together (at least ours).

Getting all the craft supplies organized for 109 pre-schoolers!
This year, I volunteered to organize the crafts for my girls' pre-school Egg Hunt Day.  I know I always enjoy searching for, preparing for, and actually doing holiday crafts with my kids, so why not do it for 109 pre-schoolers?!?!  Luckily, my saintly mother stepped in to save me from myself and was a master with the templates, tracing, cutting, tying, and everything else necessary to make sure we had everything ready for our deadline.

Peek-a-Boo Chick
The first craft I chose was the Peek-a-Boo Chick.  This one involved cutting a lot of foam sheets for the egg and chick.  I got stickers for decorating, and then just used glue to assemble everything else (and a brad for the egg).  Even if you are doing this craft just with a couple kids, it does take a bit of prep time.  I figured many of the two and three year olds would be too little to successfully put the brad in the egg without ripping the foam, so my mom pieced together all the eggs in advance.  But once the prep is done, assembly for this craft is pretty quick, so it's a great one for kids with short attention spans.

I am a sucker for the crafts that involve kids' hand and footprints, so the second one I chose was the Handprint Easter Lamb.  Because I feared that actually inking the hands of so many pre-schoolers would be a nightmare, I just traced my kids' hands and then colored in the head and feet with black pen which I think worked just fine.  Getting the thumb-head at an angle that didn't look too weird took some trial and error, but the end product was fun.  I hope the kids will enjoy making these, and the parents will love them just as much as I do.
Handprint Lamb (courtesy of Ben's hand)
We are also  busy reading books about Spring and Easter.  Here's some of what we've been enjoying:

Books About Spring:
Books About Easter: (there are so many wonderful books about Easter - these are just a couple featuring some of my kids' favorite characters):

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Taking a Break to De-Stress

Clara making "ghosts" out of her batch
While we do a lot of reading in our house, sometimes you just need a break!  With three pre-school aged kids, some of my days just seem jam-packed with loud intensity - and there are times when I wonder just how long my group can go without whining, melting down, fighting, or just generally making me crazy.  So, to say I am always on the hunt for calming activities (for them and me) is an understatement.

We play with play-dough a lot in our house - and my go-to recipe is from the blog The Imagination Tree.  I love it.  It takes less than 20 minutes (and it only takes that long because I often have one of the kids help, or I'm trying to make it while doing a million other things!)  Usually, we go pretty standard and just add food coloring.  Play-dough is so fun, but it's also clearly a great sensory activity that strengthens little hands for fine motor skills.

About six months ago, thanks to a friend of a friend, I got really into essential oils.  Check out her Facebook Page (Nurse Freckles) for all kinds of wonderful information about things you can do with essential oils (as I'm writing this post, I'm drinking hot tea infused with Lemongrass, and my son is down the hall diffusing a blend to help with his breathing).

So, when I saw a post from  Lemon Lime Adventures for Calming Glitter Slime, I was immediately inspired.  Calming Glitter Slime is basically made from Elmer's Glue and Liquid Starch.   As explained on the post:

Calming Proprioceptive Input | Since this slime is extremely resistant and thick it provides a great deal of deep pressure and joint compressions. As you squeeze, fold, roll, and even pull the slime, you are sending signals to your brain that are calming and organizing! Much like chores, brain breaks and simple daily tasks, playing with slime is actually calming and can increase focus.

The material is vaguely play-dough-like, and the suggestion was to add calming essential oils to maximize the de-stressing properties of this substance.  Two of the things I get overly excited about in one place!  I had all the best intentions of following the recipe and making a huge cool batch for my kids...but, alas, I have no idea what liquid starch is!  I ordered something on Amazon that claimed to be liquid starch - but it was not.  I'm sure it serves the same purpose on clothing as liquid starch, but it did nothing for my Calming Glitter Slime!  But, I had no time to run out and track down liquid starch (it's probably not THAT hard to find, right?) I turned back to my trusty play-dough recipe, and I whipped up a batch.  My girls asked for purple, so I mixed my red and blue food coloring as best I could.  Then, I broke my #1 craft activity rule, which is NO GLITTER!!  Or as I like to call it "Devil's Dust."  And I added half a vial of purple glitter to the play-dough - and then, because the whole point was to get some CALM and RELAXATION out of this, I added a few drops of lavender oil to the recipe.

In the end, we didn't get to try this cool SLIME.  But we will.  I still have a ton of glue!  But, my girls were so excited to get some glitter in their lives, and I was so relaxed having just smelled the lavender as I was kneading the dough and absorbing it through my hands, that even if I only imagined that it worked on my kids too, well, that's just fine by me!

Alice poking at her Surprise Egg
As an added fun son is excited about Surprise Eggs (after he saw it on a youtube video), so I took a few of our plastic Easter Eggs, put a few jelly beans inside, and then wrapped it in the play-dough.  My kids are young, so they had a lot of fun doing this over and over, even if I just put old little trinkets in the eggs before covering them up.  

I loved the process of this activity - finding inspiration from all the amazing blogs out there, using essential oils to help my family re-gain balance, making an activity with and for my kids, screwing up but still finding a way to make it work, and of course, generating a lot of excitement and smiles!  And we will get to the GLITTER SLIME.  Soon.  I promise :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Opera: A New Musical Journey

Recently, Ben was looking at one of those "Seek and Find" books and saw the stereotypical image of an opera singer in one scene.  He was curious about who she was and I explained that she was an opera singer - along with probably a poor explanation of what opera music is and how people act out operas.  He just nodded.

Several weeks later while we were at the library, he turned to me and said, "We should probably learn more about opera.  Maybe there are books here about it."  And of course there were, so I borrowed a few that retell opera stories for a child audience, including:

I then turned to my friend Paul, who is a trained opera singer, and asked him what operas he might recommend for obvious novices/children.  He provided a list, and I went on to iTunes and downloaded a CD that contained all the ones on his list.

My plan had to been to listen to the music as we read the stories about them in the books.  But, as with many of my plans with the kids, it didn't quite work out that way.  They didn't want to just sit and listen while I droned on about what the people were singing about.  So, in the end, I have just played the music at home in the background now and again, and we read some of the stories just so I would have a better idea of what this opera stuff is all about.

I'm not becoming an expert in anything musical any time soon, but this was a really nice way to introduce myself and my kids to a different form of music that the general pop and rock stuff we head on the radio.  It's inspired me to make more of an effort to do this with other forms of music - a least just to get a taste of something different once in awhile.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We Need Diverse Books

While I'd like to think that I make an effort to read diverse authors, choosing diverse books for myself and my children - the truth is I often read books that are recommended to me; the ones that win awards or that everyone else seems to be reading.  And, often times, as a result of not being mindful about what I'm choosing, I am in fact choosing the more mainstream straight white male authors. This is not to say that many of these books aren't worth reading (like anything, some are good and some are not), but I think I could do more to promote women, people of color, and LGBTQ authors in publishing.  So, to that end, I have been reading more about the We Need Diverse Books movement.

Part of the Mission Statement of We Need Diverse Books reads:
  • We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

The movement focuses mostly on Children's Books - and doesn't only encourage the reading of diverse authors, but just books featuring diverse characters.  On the adult level, many people have proposed only reading diverse authors for an entire year.  One person's experience doing that was written about here, and another one here.  This proposal has created some controversy - of course, there are diverse authors out here who write terrible books, and there are white male authors out there who write about female characters or people of color - there are simply many who see the whole idea as a type of reverse-racism.  Some of the purpose in seeking out diverse authors (I think) is to also support their lack of inclusion in the general publishing world.  Some of those ideas (and more) are represented in the referenced article, with this:
  • The “We Need Diverse Books” campaign has kicked off 2015 asking followers to pledge to read books that highlight diversity in a myriad of aspects (so not just people of colour, but looking at various inclusivity issues such as disability and gender and sexuality) with the hashtag #WNDBResolution.
Since kicking around this idea in my head for the past couple weeks, I have made exceptions for "books by white authors already on my night stand" or "books by white authors that I've been in the queue for at the library."  But, maybe I need to stop doing that.  I'm also not sure where "gender diversity" falls in this endeavor.  I read a lot of women authors, but probably the majority are white (I don't know, I haven't been paying attention which is kind of the point).  All this to say that I'm thinking about this and reading a lot about it, and I'm ready to dive in - and at least start keeping track better of what I'm reading on this front instead of just reading whatever gets recommended or I see people reading on the bus.  Just looking at the We Need Diverse Books website and their list of resources for places to find diverse books is really inspiring - often when looking for books for my kids I just flip through the shelves at the library and see what catches my eye.  I can and will still do that, but this is a fantastic (in my mind) resource for just being more mindful about the breadth of what is out there.

I know that even raising this as a possible way to make reading choices will offend people - and I've noticed that every time I post something on the What the Wild Things Read Facebook page about emphasizing diversity in reading or my family's exploration of non-mainstream ideas or holidays, I tend to lose a "like" or two on my page.  Of course, that's fine.  The purpose of the blog is to share what my family is doing - for better or worse.  I don't seek to offend, and I welcome thoughts about all these issues (as long as the comments and discussions are respectful), but I doubt any of them will stop me from consistently trying to seek out more, new, and different books and authors with the goal of expanding my world view, as well as that of my children.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Magical leprechauns, gold coins, brilliants greens - what's not to love about St. Patrick's Day?  Well, maybe not the excessive revelry for some, but as a holiday for kids, there's so much to do with St. Patrick's.  When it comes to reading up on a subject, I've come to find that Gail Gibbons can usually be counted on to have some sort of straight-forward factual background material suitable for children.  She did not let me down here, and I recently borrowed St. Patrick's Day to give my kids a sense of who St. Patrick was, why we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and of course, all the fun we can have with it.

Even though St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, I have no problem celebrating holidays throughout the month, so if you haven't had your fill of green, here are a few we've enjoyed:

And for adults looking for books set in Ireland, there are a million, but here are a few of my favorites:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Clara's Pick of the Week: Construction Kitties

At our local library branch, we have have a fantastic children's section - tons of books and comfortable chairs to lounge in and read all afternoon.  But, one of the things about this branch that my son, Ben, has always loved is that they have a specific section for books about transportation.  So, he learned early on that he could just go straight to that section and find countless books about cars, planes, trucks, trains, boats - and anything else transportation related (every once in awhile there's a good bike book thrown in there).  Over the past couple years we've borrowed and re-borrowed so many books from that shelf.  It's a nice safe place for Ben to gravitate toward, and even though his tastes are starting to change, it's always one of the first shelves he visits when we arrive at the library.

My girls are also into books about transportation, but I've found they often have to have a little bit more - and usually that little bit more involves animals.  There have to be animals driving the vehicles or somehow or other involved in the stories.  And so this book is purr-fect.  Construction Kitties by Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges is a brightly illustrated book with simple text that shows a group of cats work through the process of building a playground.  The cats are super cute as they put on their construction hats, dig and move the dirt, take a break for lunch, and eventually go home for the day.  This is a book that has appealed to my kids for years, and one that I don't mind reading over and over and over again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Alice's Pick of the Week: Early Bird

Early Bird by Toni Yuly is a very simply written and brightly illustrated book about the early bird who travels far and wide for her breakfast.  The book emphasizes directional words such as up, down, and around.  This is also a fun book to act out - your child can pretend to be the bird, waking up and going on a journey to find her snack - climbing up, crawling around, jumping down - whatever makes sense around your own house or yard.  This has also been a good book for our older son who is slowly learning to recognize a few words - and is going back to very basic books with only one sentence or so per page for easier sounding out and sight recognition.  I love the vibrant drawings.  We haven't read it yet, but there is a companion book to Early Bird called Night Owl that also looks super cute.  We'll be reading it soon!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Purim!

Ben dressed as a Blue Monster celebrating Purim with his classmates.
As I've written about before, I love holidays - I love celebrating them and I love learning about new holidays from different countries, cultures, and religions.  This week, my son  has been introducing us to a new (for our family) holiday:  Purim.

For those who don't know,the story of Purim appears in the Book of Esther.  The evil Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.  The King, who was unknowingly married to a Jew (Esther), placed the fate of the Jewish people in Haman's hands.  Mordecai, Esther's cousin, discovered the plot, and persuaded Esther to speak to the King on behalf of the Jewish people. Esther revealed the plot to the King, and Haman and his followers were murdered in place of Mordecai and the Jews.  Purim celebrates the deliverance from massacre.  The celebration consists of eating, drinking, and being merry.  I have heard it described by some as the "Jewish Mardi Gras."

While my family is not Jewish, I can get behind any holiday that celebrates a woman speaking truth to power, and certainly one that advocates eating, drinking, and being merry.  As a long-time fan of hamentaschen, it's good for me to finally know what these little triangles I love to devour actually represent (Haman's three-cornered hat).

Delicious plate of Hamentaschen
Because my son has never celebrated Purim before, this whole week at his school has been an exciting adventure.  He and his classmates made noise-makers, put on a puppet show telling the story of Purim, designed masks, dressed up in costumes for a parade, and baked hamentaschen for themselves.  And because not everyone in his class comes to school every day of the week - they are actually celebrating on two days, just to be sure everyone has a chance to participate.  To prepare my son, and to educate our whole family about the holiday, I (of course) sought out a few books from the library.  Here are a couple that we read:

Purim by Miriam Nerlove - This book tells the straight-forward Purim story as heard by a little boy from his Rabbi.  For someone with  no background in the holiday, this was a good easy primer - the language was a bit jarring at times - and I had to modify it a bit for my two-year-olds.  But, given that the story itself is about killing and massacre, and the whole point is deliverance from this brutal truth, others may think that censoring the language detracts from part of the point.

It's Party Time! A Purim Story by Jonny Zucker - I love the colorful illustrations in this book which focuses more on how Purim is celebrated - with costumes, noise makers, and presents -  rather than the historical significance of the holiday.

When It's Purim by Edie Stoltz Zolkower - this cute little board book tells the rhyming story of animals baking hamentaschen to give as gifts.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Love of Cars + A Love of Space = Lowriders in Space!

Winter Bingo Card
When I was a kid, I loved all the library reading programs (big shout out to the Palo Alto College Terrace Branch, my home away from home!) - one of the great reading joys I've had as a parent is introducing Ben to similar programs at our local library.  Over the winter break, the library sponsored a Winter Bingo game.  Each kid received a bingo card where the spaces listed activities related to reading, like "Read a comic" and other non-reading ones like, "Play outside."  Ben almost achieved a "black-out."  I actually think he missed "Tell a joke," which he has been making up for in spades over the last week (that post to come soon!).

When it came time to pick out a book, Ben lingered over the choices for a long time.  He said he wanted a chapter book or something long so it would take awhile to read.  But, all the chapter books were for much older kids (meaning there were no pictures!), so Ben settled on a comic book called Loweriders in Space (which has made me realize that I need to educate myself a bit more about comics vs. graphic novels).

He then put the book on the shelf and it sat there unread...until he rediscovered it this week.  And he LOVES it.  Lowriders in Space  tells the story of three friends who work in a car repair garage.  Lupe is a master mechanic, El Chavo clean like nobody's business, and Elirio is an artistic genius.  They dream of owning their own garage, and the opportunity presents itself an the Annual Car Competition.  They set out to fix up and old lowrider...which takes them on an intergalactic adventure to build the best car in the universe!  Ben loves anything to do with cars - but the idea of "art" cars is a new one for him, and he has suggested several times since reading this that we should paint our car!  The space section of the book was also fun since there were concepts we've been learning about such as moons and planets, but introduced him to new things like black holes and constellations.  This book has inspired us to seek out a lowrider competition, as well as a planetarium.  Just a tremendously creative book that combines two things so many kids love - cars and space, and has the potential for opening up so many new paths of exploration.